Blu Aubergine Blog

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Salinas -- New York, NY

Iberian cuisine in New York City has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years, following in line with its emergence in the aughts as cutting-edge, its chefs as leaders in the gastronomical world. But even as El Bulli has served its last liquid olive, and foodie followers have moved on to Foraged Nordic Nouveau (copyright pending) as their food trend-of-the-minute...Iberian cuisine deserves a continued closer look, more menu perusals, deeper discovery by interested diners. My love of Mediterranean cuisines and exploring the subtle differences between one regional dish in coastal Spain and another version in Southern France...the similar threads between Greek moussaka, Bolognese lasagna, and Neapolitan eggplant parmigiana, and on and knows no bounds. And of these Mediterranean cuisines, I find Spanish food to be one of he most interesting. One place to explore all things Iberian, Mediterranean, and delicious is SALINAS, a gorgeous, somewhat-hidden gem of a Spanish spot in Chelsea.

The entrance is a bit subtle, shall we say, but when you walk through the front door, the warmth of the space immediately hits you. There is a small bar area and lounge up front, but to dine you are whisked down a narrow corridor to a gorgeous dining room that is intimate but spacious. Nothing here screams 'Spanish restaurant decor,' especially not of the kitschy variety we're used to from decades past, all wrought iron railings, red tablecloths and posters of bullfighters and flamenco dancers. In fact, the dining room has more of a zen Asian feel, with dim lighting and a fireplace in cool weather, a retractable roof that allows for semi-alfresco dining in warmer weather.

All of this atmosphere sets a tone for the sophisticated, urbane cuisine that comes out of chef Luis Bollo's kitchen. Chef Bollo hails from San Sebastián, a town in the north of Spain that boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other place on the planet. Bollo is a much-lauded chef who helmed Meigas, which opened in '99 in Manhattan (since relocated to Connecticut, along with another place called Ibiza: both named by critics as some of the country's best Spanish restaurants). He also partnered with the Meigas owners on launching Mediterra, one of my favorite hometown dining spots in Princeton, NJ.

SALINAS opened in 2011 with a focus on Spanish cuisine and that of the Balearic Islands. The name refers to the many open-air salt flats along the Mediterranean coast of Spain and its islands. As such, seafood plays an important role on the menu, which features various iterations, including fresh ceviche of seasonal fish, seared octopus, boquerones (white anchovies) with avocado on multi-grain toasts, and a tuna escabeche (a Spanish version of fish "cured" in acid -- often vinegar instead of citrus juice) with chickpeas and cauliflower. Depending on the season, you can also find Patagonian baby calamari with purple potato salad and pumpkin, and other various vegetable-based tapas. And of course, as any good Spaniard knows, the restaurant must also offer great Spanish charcuterias, including the famed Iberian cured hams that are considered the world's best (mi dispiace, Italia!

Squid ink fideos with shaved seppia and saffron aioli foam
As for larger courses, there is a separate category for fideos, the Catalonian version of paella made with broken vermicelli noodles. If you're not familiar with it...EAT. IT. NOW. It's addictive and delicious and I highly recommend the squid ink version, which comes topped with shaved seppia (cuttlefish), saffron foam, watercress, and beet powder. My dining companions who tried fideos for the first time were completely enamored of this dish. Other versions include the pasta with braised lamb shank, wild mushrooms, and goat cheese aioli, as well as a vegetarian vegetable version and one with chicken, chorizo, fava beans and a poached egg. These are seasonal, so expect these fideos to change according to the best of the market's offerings.

Among the platos principales, the house-cured bacalao (codfish) with Galician octopus, cockles, sweet potatoes and artichokes in a parsley broth is a standout. There's a delicious grilled chicken, a fairly traditional mixed paella (with delicious bites from sea and land), and a fish of the day. But probably the most famous main course, the dish for which Salinas is mentioned in the food press most often, is the porcella, the slow roasted suckling pig.And it's prepared just as it should be, with a crispy skin you could shatter with your fork, and meltingly tender and juicy pork meat underneath. It's served with light watercress and frisee lettuce to cut the fat, grilled quince to bring out the sweetness, and drizzled with a PX sherry reduction. Spain, in a nutshell -- or rather, on a plate. 
The sides are reliably delicious, if fairly basic: a mixed salad, sauteed garlic greens, addictive patatas bravas (spiced crispy potatoes), and a confit of piquillo peppers that just screams out to be sopped up by some crusty bread. 

Dessert is not really the point in Spanish restaurants, though there are always sure to be a few good pastries: the ubiquitous flan, a decadent chocolate dessert of some kind...Here there is a profiterole with passion fruit pastry cream and a rum and coconut panna cotta -- whisking you away to Mallorca or Ibiza for an island-breezy finishing touch to the meal. Or, do as I like to do and indulge in a "dessert cocktail" in place of an actual sweet. The Morena is a chocolate martini made with organic mezcal and passion fruit. Si, por favor! 

SALINAS 136 9th Ave 
New York, NY 10011
(212) 776-1990
Monday 6pm-10pm
Tuesday – Saturday 6pm-11pm
Sunday 5pm-8pm